Narcissism Increases Among Young Americans—Why?

narcissismA serious social and psychological problem, narcissism refers to an inflated view of the self, coupled with relative indifference to others.[1] Those who have this trait fail to help others unless there is an immediate gain or recognition to themselves for doing so.1 Individuals with narcissism also believe they are above the law and often violate it, and are ready to trample anyone who gets in their way to rise to the top—where they think they belong.1

A world full of narcissists would be a sad world, for as human beings, we are, by nature, social animals that depend upon one another’s good will and care.1 Therefore, narcissism is not only bad for society as a whole, but also for the individual.1 Usually, people with narcissism are unhappy and angry at society as it fails to recognize their superiority.1 They are incapable of forming the needed deep and meaningful relationships with others that we all need to live happy and emotionally secure lives.1

Empathy is the main characteristic that distinguishes non-narcissists from narcissists.1 A capacity and tendency to experience life from the point of view of others to feel their joy and sorrow, as well as caring about their wellbeing, empathy is the foundation for human compassion and morality.1

Over the past thirty years, researchers have been assessing narcissism and empathy using questionnaires that were developed in the late 1970s.1 The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is a questionnaire designed to assess narcissism.1 This questionnaire has been administered to many samples of college students, and the average narcissism score has been steadily increasing while the average empathy score has been steadily decreasing.1 In fact, approximately 70 percent of students score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than the average student did 30 years ago.1

This leads to the question: What accounts for this significant rise in narcissism and decline in empathy?1 While there is no way to completely know for sure, the study’s data revealed many grounds for speculation. A possibility is that way that people respond to the questionnaire items have changed.1 It could be that students are more honest than they were 30 years ago, admitting to selfish and uncaring tendencies.1 However, this is the most hopeful interpretation, as it suggests that the rate of narcissism has not changed, but people are instead more honest.1

Other speculation has centered around the misguided “self-esteem movement” that began in the 1980s.1 Parents and teachers were advised to build up children’s self-esteem through frequent praise.1 Often, children were told how beautiful, smart, and generally wonderful they were, and parents would brag about them to others in their presence.1 Children were told they were all special and could be anything they wished when they grew up.1 Trophies were given out to everyone in competitions.1 Overall, children grew up believing what they were told, with narcissistic traits being instilled into them.1 What they were told were the exact things narcissists believe about themselves.1

Another speculation is the increased pressure put on children to achieve, where achievement means beating out others in competition.1 They are told to get the best grades, go to the best college, and win sports competitions.1 Their focus of thought is shifted to themselves, at the expense of others.1 Others are seen as people they must defeat and manipulate to get to the top.1 There is less concern for others. Building a resume that will get them somewhere is what life centers around—the compassion and empathy involved with those activities is lost.1

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